The Out of Bounds Church

June 23, 2009

books / church / culture / emerging church / theology

A few years ago, during the process of earning a PhD, Steve Taylor wrote The Out of Bounds Church? to show the ways the church was and is changing. Steve lives in New Zealand, so the book is much less U.S.-centric than some other books of its kind, which is beautiful and necessary. It is also true that New Zealand is often further advanced in many of these areas than the U.S., which only increases the relevance of a book like this for us, four years later.

I picked up the book a year or so ago, and finally got around to reading it recently. I have been wanting to blog about it for a couple of weeks since I finished reading it, but I have found it incredibly difficult to narrow down the things I’d like to say. This is easily one of the two or three most impactful books I’ve read on the church and its future in the mission of God.

The book spends time discussing postmodern culture in incredibly perceptive ways, from the fragmentation we have all experienced to the tribalism that many of us have embraced in response to it, and how both of these relate to and are affected by technology and spirituality.

After this kind of introduction, the book proceeds to give depth to the idea that cultural changes, such as the one that is currently taking place in the West, start on the fringes of culture. This deeply resonates with me, as I’ve said on this blog before, knowing that underground and alternative subcultures were really the beginning of the emergence of postmodernism from its beginnings in university English departments.

But in this recognition, there is a deep awareness that God moves and speaks and works on the fringes of culture, and that those of us who are called to those fringes have a creative and powerful responsibility. For myself, I still feel strongly that I belong on these fringes, and though I welcome the broader emergence that culture is undergoing and enjoy communicating with those who come into it, my heart is still in the underground.

Proceeding from this are powerful words on the creativity that is available specifically in the emerging church, for worship and art and theology, both as it remains on the fringes and as it continues to move with the broader emergence of culture. I have experienced this in powerful ways, and truly hope to move with this creativity both as a designer/artist, and as a person seeking the heart of God.

From this, there is an incredible discussion of community and missiology, as it proceeds from the Trinity and moves into the incarnation and its reverberations of redemptive community that we can experience today, and the various forms in which these communities can be sent into the world and engage with it, understanding the culture in which it finds itself. The chapter on redemptive portals has such incredible relevance to the situation of the community where I currently find myself that I typed up the entire chapter to share it with them. In addition to this, the metaphor of DJing in a fragmented culture is powerful.

The book finishes by examining ways that “God is surfing the postmodern mission edges of our culture,” which is as perfect a sentence to describe this book as I can find.